Roelly Winklaar has been one of the world’s biggest and best bodybuilders since winning the Arnold Amateur back in 2009. The Afro-Curaçaoan colossus has won 11 pro titles in his prolific career, including the 2010 New York Pro in his rookie year and the 2018 Arnold Classic Australia in his best year. He also finished third in the 2018 Mr. Olympia (ahead of Mr. Olympias past and future: Dexter Jackson, Big Ramy, and Brandon Curry), his highest placing in bodybuilding’s Super Bowl; and he won that Olympia’s “People’s Champion” award, as voted by the audience. Winklaar’s arms and delts then were arguably the best ever. Now, at 45, and after a disappointing 11th in last year’s Mr. Olympia, “The Beast” is contemplating retirement. Even if he has posed for the final time on a contest stage, Roelly Winklaar will go down in history as one of the most muscular humans who ever lived.
These are Roelly Winklaar’s top 10 training tips.
1. PRIORITIZE YOUR WEAKNESS.
“A lot of bodybuilders don’t like training their weak areas. But working on my weaknesses means I’m improving. If you neglect your weaknesses, you’re getting worse. You’re only becoming less symmetrical. Symmetry is so important in our sport, especially when you’re standing with the best on the Olympia stage.”
2. DO BENCH DIPS.
“How did I grow my triceps? Apart from genetics, I incorporate all kinds of triceps variations: pushdowns, skullcrushers, one-arm dumbbell extensions. One of my favorites has always been these old-fashioned bench dips. Sometimes on the last set I’ll do drop sets. I start with four [45-pound] plates on my legs, and every 7-8 reps a plate is stripped until I end with no plates and just keep going. All together I do 35-40 reps, and that blows out my triceps.”
3. CHOOSE YOUR TOOL WISELY.
“There are some workouts—chest and back, for example—when I might use mostly machines or even all machines. Shrugs are an exercise I like to do with a machine or cable. Machines allow you to safely go heavier. Both machines and free weights have their places in your workouts. Free weights give you a freer range of motion, and machines lock that motion into place. Both ways are good tools for different reasons. It’s like sometimes you need a simple hammer, sometimes you need a circular saw. Sometimes you need a barbell for rows, sometimes a row machine. But if a machine will allow me to work harder or safer than a barbell or dumbbell, I’ll pick the machine. Machines were one of the reasons I’ve had such a long career without major injuries.”
4. DO PULLDOWN VARIATIONS.
“I like to do different types of pulldowns in the same back workout. I’ll do them to the front. I’ll do them behind my neck. And I’ll do them with one hand at a time which lets you bring your elbow straight down to the side. I’ll do these all for four sets of 12-15 in the same workout. They each hit my back in different ways, so I think of them as three very different exercises.”
5. STICK MOSTLY TO THE 12-15 REP RANGE.
“I’ve done lots of sets with low reps, but I feel the muscles working more at a higher range, usually 12-15. My goal isn’t to use the heaviest weight possible. I’m not a weightlifter. I’m a bodybuilder. My goal is to build as much muscle as I can. And getting at least 12 reps lets me best stimulate growth. Also, it forces me to go a little lighter, though I still go as heavy as I can, and that’s safer. Always doing low reps will work your tendons and joints more, so, even if you avoid a major injury, you’ll probably develop some nagging pains that’ll limit what you can do. I want to be able to give my all to every workout.”
6. DOUBLE UP ON SHOULDER PRESSES.
“I like to start my shoulder routine with one type of press and end it with another type of press. So, I might start with Hammer machine shoulder presses, do my front raises, side laterals, machine rear laterals, shrugs, and then end with seated Smith machine presses. By that last exercise I’ve exhausted my delts and traps, so I can’t go heavy on the presses then. But I like the feeling of finishing off with a good compound exercise, and overhead pressing is the best shoulder exercise.”
7. DO LEG EXERCISES DIFFERENTLY.
“For quads, there’s a few things I like. I like hack squats and reverse hack squats. I like leg presses with one leg at a time and leg presses with a wide stance—wider than standing width. And I like regular squats and safety bar squats. Those exercises, hack squats, leg presses, and [free-weight] squats built my legs. They all work my legs in different ways. Even if your gym doesn’t have a lot of equipment, there’s always ways you can do an exercise—change your stance, change the equipment, or something—to turn it into a different exercise.”
8. GO UNDERHAND ON FRONT RAISES.
“One unique exercise I do for delts is the barbell front raise with an underhand grip. Keep your elbows only slightly bent. Then as you get tired you can bend your elbows a little more to get those extra few reps that are so important. That ability to bend your elbows a little to a lot is what makes this different from overhand front raises where you keep your arms straight and elbows locked. I also feel it more in my front delts when I go underhand with a shoulder-width grip.”
9. PAIR UP.
“I’ve always found that a trainer and a training partner can help me maintain my form and drive me to be my best. It’s great if you can workout with someone at or near your level, someone who understands what you’re going through and what you need to do, because then you can share in the journey with them. Every workout can become a competition to get more reps than your partner.”
10. GIVE IT YOUR ALL.
“The closest thing I have to a secret is to give your all to every set. Most people think they’re doing that already, but they’re not. Just because you went all the way until you failed to get a rep doesn’t mean you gave your all. What about the first rep? What about the third rep and the fourth reps? Was your mind into those? Were you getting a full rep from stretch to contraction. Give your all to every rep from the first to the last.”
All photos: Roelly Winklaar/Instagram